What Legal Obligations Arise from Being a Sponsor?
The directions to the Form I-864 specify that the Affidavit of Support is a “contract between a Sponsor and the U.S. government.” The law also provides that, by signing the Affidavit of Support, legal obligations arise that are enforceable by the sponsored foreigner, or the federal, state, or other entity that provides a means-tested benefit to the foreigner. In theory, the foreigner could sue the sponsor in court to enforce the Affidavit of Support. The sponsored foreigner could petition a court to legally compel the sponsor to provide for the foreigner at an annual income that is not less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. If joint sponsors sign the Affidavit of Support, they share this obligation.
In addition, should the foreigner ever receive a “means-tested benefit,” the governmental or other entity that provided the benefit could pursue the sponsor for reimbursement? To date, federal agencies administering benefit programs have determined that federal means-tested public benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Each state determines which,
if any, of its public benefits are means tested. Certain federal and state programs are not included as means-tested benefits; those are listed on Form I-864P.
The obligation to sufficiently support the foreigner lasts until (a) the immigrant becomes a US citizen, (b) the sponsored immigrant can be credited with forty quarters of qualifying work (generally equated to ten years of work), as described by US Social Security law, (c) the sponsored immigrant leaves the US permanently, (d) the sponsor dies, or (e) the sponsored immigrant spouse dies. Importantly, divorce does not terminate the Affidavit to Support obligation.
Besides the foregoing obligations, all sponsors and co-sponsors must keep the USCIS abreast of any address changes within thirty days of changing their address. This is a continuing obligation, and fines can be imposed for failing to do so. Only persons who execute the Form I-864 must notify the USCIS about the change of address. The form for sponsors to notify the USCIS about a change of address is Form 1-865.
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